By land, air and sea
Hampton develops for a new era
Marine biologists at the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Hampton enjoy getting up close and personal with the sea and the life it fosters. Lately though, they’ve gotten a little too close.
Two to three times a year — usually because of a hurricane or nor’easter — the Virginia Tech research facility in Hampton floods, which means scientists must stop all trials and projects mid-study and prepare to take on water, moving equipment onto cinder blocks. Following a week of cleanup, researchers must then restart experiments from scratch.
“Every time we flood, it will shut down studies and take the whole program and knock it back a few weeks,” explains Michael Schwarz, director of the seafood-focused center. “Flooding’s been a really major, major problem for us.”
Help is on the horizon. Within the next year, Schwarz and his fellow researchers plan to move into a $9.3 million facility currently under construction on Hampton’s downtown waterfront. The new facility, which will be more resistant to flooding, is just one of many ongoing development projects in Hampton.
Even with the pandemic-induced recession pinching pocketbooks, Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck had good economic news to share during his November 2020 state of the city speech. There are several projects in the local pipeline: Huntington Ingalls Industries is building the $47 million Unmanned Systems Center of Excellence, a manufacturing and research facility to develop underwater drones. Developers broke ground in mid-January on a
$29 million mixed-use apartment building in the heart of Hampton’s downtown. Across the street, Chesterfield-based Shamin Hotels is refurbishing an existing hotel that will become part of Hilton’s Tapestry Collection in the first half of
And though the proposal is still going through an approvals process, the U.S. Air Force wants to relocate its F-22 stealth fighter training unit to Hampton’s portion of Joint Base Langley-Eustis this year, adding a small but permanent boost to the local economy.
With the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel beginning its $3.8 billion expansion to add twin, two-lane tunnels next to the existing tunnel and other projects in the works, one of America’s oldest settlements is being repositioned for a new era.
A heart transplant
Located at the tip of the peninsula created by the James and York rivers, Hampton is home to America’s first military installation dedicated solely to air power and NASA’s oldest field facility, now known as Langley Air Force Base and Langley Field Center, respectively. It’s also home to Old Point Comfort, where the first documented African slaves arrived in what would become the United States of America, as well as Emancipation Oak, under which the Peninsula’s Black community gathered for the first Southern reading of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
But all of this history comes at a price. More than 400 years after European and African people first came to what is now Hampton, the city is more than 96% built out. Realizing the only way for the city to grow was through revitalization, Hampton’s City Council created redevelopment plans for six areas of the city in the mid-2000s. After the economic pause of the Great Recession, efforts to redevelop Hampton’s downtown are moving forward again.
One of the more prominent developments is a currently unnamed $29 million, mixed-use apartment building. The five-story building will be located between Settlers Landing Road (downtown’s main drag), and an attractive restaurant and retail strip on Queens Way. Developed by Richmond’s WVS Cos. and Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania Realty Group Inc., the project will include 18,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor and 160,000 square feet of residential, totaling roughly 160 apartment units. The building is expected to open mid-2022.
It’s located near Hampton’s iconic Virginia Air & Space Science Center, which reopened in December 2020 after a $1.5 million renovation that included upgrades to its IMAX Theater and adding dozens of new interactive exhibits.
Richard Souter, executive vice president of WVS, says his company, which also built the riverfront Rocketts Landing development in Richmond, was attracted to downtown Hampton for its “real sense of place. It’s one of the few urban areas [in Hampton Roads] that has an authentic downtown street grid and historic buildings. Downtown Hampton has a very nice fabric to it. It’s very close to the water, and that appealed to us.”
Across Settlers Landing Road, Chesterfield-based Shamin Hotels is refurbishing the existing waterfront-facing Hampton Marina Hotel. Purchased by Shamin in 2017 for $5.65 million, the hotel will be renamed and become part of Hilton’s Tapestry Collection in early- to mid-2021 when renovations are completed.
As for Virginia Tech’s Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center, researchers aim to move into their new facility during the first quarter of 2022. Involved in practically every aspect of seafood and aquaculture — including product safety, quality, economics, business development and marketing — VSAREC hopes to ramp up its efforts at its new waterfront location just south of the space center.
Tuck, the city’s mayor, hopes economic development projects such as these will translate into other amenities and events that will attract more people downtown, noting that even Hampton University students seldom appear to visit downtown despite the short journey over the Booker T. Washington Bridge.
“The heart of a lot of cities is their downtown,” Tuck says. “With having a more vibrant downtown, we could actually capture more of those students.”
One if by air, two if by sea
For all of Hampton’s upcoming developments on land, the city also has advancements on the horizon that will soar through the air and traverse the seas.
Anticipating demand for unmanned submarines by the U.S. Navy, Huntington Ingalls Industries broke ground in September 2020 on its $47 million Unmanned
Systems Center of Excellence in Hampton. The 20-acre facility will create more than 260 jobs and allow HII to build undersea drones up to about 30 feet long; it has already begun manufacturing hull structures for the U.S. Navy’s ORCA XLUUV unmanned submarines being manufactured by The Boeing Co. The campus’s initial 22,000-square-foot building opened in December 2020; a second, 137,000-square-foot building is set to open this fall.
“It’s the future, and it puts us at the forefront of that new technology and research,” Tuck says about the facility, which will be located near Hampton’s NASA Langley Research Center.
In the largest commercial lease in Hampton Roads, HII is also renting 189,000 square feet at NetCenter, a business center in Hampton’s redeveloped Newmarket North Mall. Hampton is a good location for business, according to HII, because of its transportation infrastructure, workforce availability and proximity to its other ventures, including nearby Newport News Shipbuilding. Currently, the shipyard has plenty of work lined up, including a $2.2 billion modification for the first two Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, $1.9 billion for refueling and overhauling nuclear carriers and $1.6 billion for work on the nuclear carrier USS Doris Miller.
Though it isn’t yet official, the U.S. Air Force is looking to relocate 2,400 people — 600 pilots and airmen, 75 civilian and 25 contract personnel and nearly 1,700 accompanying dependents — to the Hampton area in the early part of this year when it moves its F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jet training unit to Langley Air Force Base, which would place more than one-third of the Air Force’s F-22 fighter fleet in Hampton.
Considering that Joint Base Langley-Eustis adds an estimated $2.9 billion to the local economy each year, Bruce Sturk, Hampton’s director of federal facilities support, says that between the influx of people and the infrastructure needed to support them, the F-22 relocation will be a boon for Hampton.
“You’re going to move the [local economic] needle … in the right direction to the tune of several million dollars,” says Sturk, a retired Air Force colonel.
Craig Quigley, executive director of the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance, says once the move is officially given the OK, at least $180 million to $190 million will be spent on military construction associated with the F-22 relocation.
“That [figure] will grow over the next several years until it’s all complete,” says Quigley, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral and former deputy assistant secretary of
defense. Once approved, construction “will begin right away [in spring or summer 2021], in order to support the movement of the aircraft and the people.”
In October 2020, officials broke ground on the $3.8 billion expansion of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel that the Virginia Department of Transportation expects will add more than $4.6 billion in investments and 28,000 new jobs locally. The expansion, which will add twin, two-lane tunnels next to HRBT’s existing tunnel and enhance interconnectedness in the region, is expected to be complete by November 2025.
In December 2020, Hampton had more good news after Amazon.com Inc. announced plans to open a new delivery station at the 21-acre site of a former Kmart on Mercury Boulevard. Amazon purchased the property for $7 million and plans to invest roughly $16 million in the project. Chuck Rigney, Hampton’s director of economic development, says Amazon will generate roughly 200 full-time and 200 part-time jobs. Amazon will also hire a large number of contract workers and independent drivers.
To support the influx of people from these developments, multifamily construction is going gangbusters in Hampton, Rigney says, with hundreds of rental units completed, under construction or in the design and approval phase.
“We have experienced a significant number of new multifamily apartment developments, along with single family and town homes for sale,” Rigney says.
One such project is the Monroe Gates Apartments in Phoebus, which plans to add 162 apartments to the local market by the end of March. Caroline Forehand, marketing manager for area developer The Whitmore Co. LLC, says that between HRBT construction and the growth at Langley, they’re seeing plenty of interest in the new units. “In one week, we had 56 inquiries” for leases, she says. “That’s a lot.”
As for Schwarz and his fellow Virginia Tech researchers, they’re patiently awaiting their new VSAREC facility. With cracks in the walls and floor of the current facility requiring regular resealing, the researchers now permanently keep their heavier equipment on cinder blocks.
“We watch the weather real closely. We’re half meteorologists,” he jokes. “We’re still operational, but we’re counting every day for the new building.”